Sh'mini Atzeret
For the week of October 10, 2009 / 22 Tishri 5770
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17;
Bemidbar / Numbers 29:35 - 30:1 (English 29:35-40)
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 8:54-66

That All Peoples May Know

Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day. (1 Melachim / 1 Kings 8:59-61; ESV)

Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem includes a reference to the very core of the purpose to which the nation of Israel was called: "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other." This is the essence of God's promise to Abraham: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Bereshit / Genesis 12:3). God built up a nation through Abraham so that all nations, and not Israel alone, would come to know the one and only true God. So as Solomon prays that the Temple would serve God's purposes for the nation of Israel, he includes this over-riding purpose, that all peoples would know the God of Israel.

God's desire to make himself known to the whole world is understood to be the ultimate blessing for all nations. The early chapters of the Torah describe the tragedy of the human race's falling away from right relationship with God. God's intention was that we would be in intimate relationship with him, to know a quality of life beyond anything we can imagine. But due to the rebellion of our first parents, people became alienated from God and were caused to live with the effects of that alienation. And yet God's original intention was not to be thwarted, which is why he called Abraham and promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him and why Solomon prayed that all nations would know the God of Israel as the only true God.

The other day I saw a car bumper sticker that said something like, "God is bigger than any one religion." Many people believe that no one religious group can be correct in thinking that their understanding of God is the only right one. Are not all religions in essence the same anyway? Are not the differences between religious groups simply a matter of perspective, emphasis, and culture? The problem with this approach is that it carries with it a fundamental misconception about the nature of world religions. Even though many religions share some similar values and perspectives, many of the most important differences between them are actually quite vast and irreconcilable.

Note that I am not commenting on denominations and branches within larger religious groups. Historically it is common for those who share similar foundational beliefs and values to differ on secondary issues. The need for these groups to work through these differences is a different topic all together and is beyond the scope of this message.

Solomon's prayer "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other" is not some arrogant narrow opinion that his particular religious view of God is better than anyone else's. It is rather an expression of God's own desire to make himself known to all peoples for their benefit, and that the knowledge of the reality and goodness of the one true God was not to be restricted to Israel alone. To claim to know the one true God and yet not share his desire to broadcast who he is throughout the world is to deny him and stands in the way of God's purpose to bless all nations.

Just as Israel as a nation was created not for itself, but to be a vehicle of blessing to the whole world, so all who follow Israel's God are called to walk in that same purpose: "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other."

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